Report details extent of India’s groundwater problem

Data collected for two years gauge the amount and quality of water as the first step to a long-term solution


Ritu Jha


Did you know just in the next two years, 21 cities, including New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater, affecting 100 million people, and by 2030, 40 percent of the population will have no access to drinking water,

By 2050, water crises are expected to reduce India’s GDP by 6 percent crises. Already, by 2030, the water shortage and population growth could increase demand two-fold.

All this is part of the recently released Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report published by the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog that aims to ensure effective water management in Indian states.

The report, based on data collected during two fiscal years, 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 from both federal and state sources, has helped gauge the states’ current water performance and the evolution of this performance in the two years.

Currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about 200,000 people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.

The report also shows that nearly 70 percent of India’s water is contaminated, placing India 120th in 122 countries for its water quality index.

The report also reveals the challenges in generating an adequate report and NITI Aayog’s plans to develop a national data management platform for all water resources in India.

For example, water use data for domestic and industrial sectors is available at only the aggregate level. This provides very little information to policymakers and suppliers. Second, where data is available, it is often unreliable due to the use of outdated collection techniques and methodologies.

This is because groundwater data in India is based on an inadequate sample of 55,000 wells out of a total of 12 million in the country.

Rash B Ghosh, the inventor of Hydrogrameen (a technique to refill depleted aquifers with fresh water, prevent land subsidence, and protect the naturally created safest source of drinking water storage areas) commenting on the number of wells reached for groundwater says it is not adequate for research, its less than 25 percent and they do not say how many are leaking to the pollution.

According to Ghosh, who is also the founder of International Institute of Bengal and Himalayan Basins (, “It’s a matter of concern that 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress in the country. About three-fourths of the households in the country do not have drinking water on the premises.”

He told indica, Indian industries have destroyed water above and below ground, and that there has a lack of information on groundwater contamination. The report asserts that 70 percent of groundwater is contaminated though how it happened and the nature of contamination – whether arsenic or common salt – is not clear to them. Arsenic is a bigger problem, with other possible contaminants including cyanides, potassium chloride, chlorine and fluorine.

The report shows a few states have seen improvement in state-level water resource management and in infrastructure-heavy areas of major and medium irrigation and watershed development. They have also enacted policies corresponding to the recommendations within policy and governance.

However, the critical themes of source augmentation (of groundwater), sustainable on-farm water use practices, and rural drinking water supply are lagging behind.

Also, 50 percent of the country’s population are directly involved agriculture. The low performers are comprised of the populous northern states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, and others, home to over 600 million people. This highlights a significant water management risk for the country.

These states also account for 20-30 percent of India’s agricultural output. Given the combination of rapidly declining groundwater levels and limited policy action, this is also likely to be a significant food security risk for the country.

Professor Ghosh said the team prepared a national guideline based on available data.

They should have made a standard monitoring document and gather data on that basis and use the preliminary info based on the existing data from parts of the country.

He said there was no need for them to go through such an effort when data and practices from the US Environment Protection Agency would have helped.

“There is nothing wrong in following the US system. If we can borrow and get help from them to write our constitution, I do not see what is the harm to use it and save money,” he said and added that all of this information is available on the EPA website. All that was needed was to train people in these practices in all states to do a preliminary site assessment, inspection, and rank it for toxicity.

Ghosh listed four ways to measure environmental parameters: surface water, groundwater soil, and air.

Venkatesan Ashok. consul general of India, San Francisco, who commented on the report, and has worked on a paper on water crises, calls for ‘five R’ for the above issues.

He told indica that the basic problem in India is the cities are drying up, with the countryside following suit.

He believes the solution for the India’s water issue lies in not just drawing up a report on it but implementing solutions using modern technology.

“The five (R), you have to focus are “Retain, Restore, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” he said. “Retain what comes from the sky and groundwater. You have to make sure to reduce water going into the sea that can be utilized for all purposes, including drinking, agriculture, industry.”

He said creating big dams do not help because they cause waterlogging, uprooting of forest and tribal populations and worse. But check dams could affect the contours of the land and reduce the flow rate of water, thus preventing erosion. Ashok also argued for planting scrub, bushes and other vegetation that holds the soil together

The second ‘R,’ restore, was to improve the quality of available water, by passing it through treatment plants.

The third ‘R,’ reduce, involved the reduction of wasted water lost through inefficiency or theft. Ashok said water use would have to be carefully metered and leakage addressed by online monitoring.

“These things are very easy. You have sensors… You have a smartphone app that can tell you whether your water consumption is correct or not,” he said, citing how, even in San Francisco where he is now, the water department contacts people who use an excessive amount of water.

In India 70 percent water is consumed in agriculture, 20 percent goes to industry and 10 percent is consumed human and animals.

He said India is doing well by implementing drip irrigation techniques in partnership with Israel.

“With drip irrigation, you can reduce 40 percent of water use. You can increase yield because water goes to the roots of the plant,” he said.

The fourth ‘R’ is for reuse, as in Singapore and other places where water is recycled, either for drinking or for other uses.

The last ‘R,’ recycle, involves desalination, which involves taking the salt out of the briny water.

“These technology including sensors, IoT, AI, machine learning monitoring are all in the Bay Area but you have to use it,” Ashok said, adding there was a need to address the report’s results proactively, coming up with solutions and implementing them.




This is a copy of the report:

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